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What does God know?

National | And when does He know it? Baptist denomination debates, but arrives on the other side of sovereignty

Issue: "Worldview warehouses," July 17, 1999

Does God know what will happen tomorrow? The answer would seem to be a settled piece of Christian theology: Yes. Since God is all knowing, then all times for Him are the present. A god who sees through a glass darkly would seem to be a very small god indeed, one made in man's image. Not for Greg Boyd, though. He is a theology professor at Bethel College and Seminary in St. Paul, and the popular preaching pastor of one of the largest churches in the Baptist General Conference (the 3,000-strong Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn.). He has written three books and many articles proclaiming, "We create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don't exist.... There simply isn't anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can't foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they in turn create their decisions." Mr. Boyd's statements have caused an uproar among the BGC's 140,000 members in more than 800 churches. (The BGC, based in Arlington Heights, Ill., was founded by Baptist immigrants who came from Sweden in the 1800s.) At the helm of an opposition committee of 200 "concerned pastors" formed last August is another veteran BGC pulpit titan and author: John Piper of the 1,400-member Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. The 200 pastors note that Mr. Boyd's teachings about foreknowledge undermine the doctrine of God's omniscience and can be dangerous to the theological health of not only BGC students but also the larger church community. "Evangelical denominations and educational institutions move away from orthodox Christian faith for lack of vigilance over incremental defections from biblical truth," they warned. (Papers on both sides of the issue are posted on the Internet at www.bgc.bethel.edu/4know/4know.htm). An investigative review committee at Bethel College and Seminary concluded that Mr. Boyd's "view of God is a biblically oriented, contemporary form of Arminianism," the doctrine that limits God's sovereignty by emphasizing man's free will. Nonsense, said Mr. Piper, noting that Arminians and Calvinists alike believe God knows everything, including details of the future. He quoted from Methodist theologian Thomas Oden of Drew University's divinity school: "The fantasy that God is ignorant of the future is a heresy that must be rejected on scriptural grounds." Mr. Piper pointed out that "the future as it is now is no longer the future but the present. To know something that is now is not foreknowledge, but just knowledge." He and the other concerned pastors last fall drafted and circulated a proposed amendment to the BGC Affirmation of Faith for vote at this year's annual conference in St. Petersburg, Fla. They proposed inserting a section about God the Father: "We believe 'that He foreknows infallibly all that shall come to pass.'" Almost every BGC denominational executive signed a letter in late January "strongly" questioning the amendment. They warned that amending the Affirmation could be divisive. They said an inquiry panel had concluded that Mr. Boyd's views were "within the bounds of evangelical Christian orthodoxy and compatible with the theological commitments expected of faculty members at Bethel." Mr. Piper's group decided to present the amendment at the annual conference last month anyway. Mr. Boyd said a vote for the amendment would be a vote in effect to disfellowship him, and he said he would resign if it passed. According to delegate Rodger Williams, a Missouri pastor in favor of the amendment, debate was intense but the overriding issue for many delegates became one of friendship and personal respect for Mr. Boyd. The amendment failed on a 270-251 vote. Kevin Dau, coordinator of the concerned pastors group and a youth pastor at Bethlehem Baptist, said the vote suggested that some delegates had made maintaining unity more important than standing for theological truth. But, he added, "We're in this for the long haul, we need to stop the ongoing erosion of theology in our denomination." Mr. Piper wrote a letter to the pastors, urging them to pray and to remain in the BGC. "I don't know what will happen now," he wrote, "but God does, and He will direct us."

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Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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